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  • Richard Chan

Does your dog respect your "no"?

We condition a dog to know what "yes' means by pairing it with rewards. We will praise the dog, give the dog food/treat/physical touch when the dog does what we ask. Many owners would do this all the time to encourage and reinforce good behavior and obedience commands. I think this is awesome. Although I have met many owners who have taught their dogs "yes" beautifully, I have also met many owners whose dogs do not know the meaning of "no". How do you know if your dog understands, and respects, your "no"? When you say "no", does your dog stop doing what he is doing? "No" is a serious word. It needs to be paired with a serious consequence for it to be really meaningful to the dog. If your dog is running after a squirrel toward a fast moving truck on a highway, and you say "no", will your dog stop? Teaching a dog the meaning of "no" is really important. It is a very serious and crucial lesson but is often overlooked. Many owners spend lots of time in teaching "yes" but they either dont know how or are not willing to teach "no". If your dog sees a snake and he is curious and wants to play with it, can you stop your dog if he is far away off leash? Will he listen to your "no" from far away? If you have a powerful and meaningful "no", you should be able to; if your "no" is just an empty sound that your dog does not respect, you could lose your dog. When we teach "yes", we would pair it with a pleasant reward. To teach the meaning of "no", we need to pair it with a negative consequence, and we need to be very consistent about it. We need to be able to follow through everytime, and we need to be very clear and fair. Most importantly, we should be very calm and almost aloof about it. We are not mad; we are just trying to correct an inappropriate behaviour so our dogs will become better and safer. Correction is not a bad thing, it is the responsible and caring thing to do. There are many things you can use to pair a negative consequence with the word "no", no matter what you use, it needs to be powerful enough that the dog will stop the behaviour. If you have to keep repeating yourself numerous times, your "no" is not meaningful, and you are not correcting your dog but merely nagging, annoying, agitating, or abusing him. When you ask your dog to do something, you should always ask yourself, "what can I do and how can I follow through if my dog does not listen?" Until you have a clear answer in place, you should not just ask your dog something and hope for the best. If you just hope for the best, your dog will learn from all these experiences that he does not need to take your seriously because you are very inconsistent with your follow through. In other words, he will learn to disrespect or ignore your "no". Just as how we pair a food reward with the sound of yes, good or a clicker, we can pair an unpleasant sensation with the sound of "no". For example, you can say no and apply a leash pop, pet convincer, ecollar, or you can use your body pressure, your voice, your movement... It does not matter what you use as long as it is something the dog respects. By putting a powerful meaning to the sound, it will make your "no" meaningful. I dont believe that ignoring a behavior will extinguish it. If I only get a warning everytime I have committed a crime, what is my incentive to not break the law? If you are only going to ignore the behaviour, your dog will not learn to respect your "no" the way he would if you have paired it with a consistent and meaningful consequence. If you have a dog who can do lots of tricks but wont listen to you when you want him to stop doing something, please examine how you introduce and condition him to the sound of "no". A dog should not be really shut down when he hears "no", but he needs to be very respectful of it. He should know it is a serious word that is not negotiable. He should know clearly that "no" means "stop" - any time, any where, no matter what. 


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